When Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced May 25 that his company was losing two executives, it sent shockwaves through the tech business. For years, J Allard and Robbie Bach have spearheaded Microsoft's entertainment division. And they have been instrumental in making the company's Xbox platform the success it is today.
At the same time, Bach presided over the failure of Windows Mobile. Over the past decade, he has watched as Windows Mobile has lost market share in the face of more compelling and feature-packed alternatives.
Perhaps that's why Ballmer decided to break apart the company's gaming and smartphone operations and make Andrew Lees, Microsoft's chief of Mobile Communications, report directly to Ballmer.
For once, it gives Lees the ability to control the destiny of Microsoft's smartphone operation. It also means that there is no one else at the top (aside from Ballmer) who will be able to decide what happens to Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 software.
Here are some things that Lees should be doing as he prepares to take Microsoft's mobile division into the next decade:
1. Focus on Windows Phone 7
Windows Mobile is the operating system that Microsoft would like everyone to forget. Although it did well years ago, it's a shadow of its former self. It no longer receives the kind of respect and admiration it once did. Simply put, it's dead. Microsoft needs to remember that. As with Windows Vista, Microsoft needs to pretend that Windows Mobile never existed. It also needs to focus all of its efforts on ensuring that consumers and enterprise customers see the value of running Windows Phone 7. There are no more "do-overs" for Microsoft. It needs to attract customers to its new mobile operating system as soon as possible.
2. Monitor Kin smartphones
Microsoft's decision to release Kin smartphones may not have been a good move. Although the company has done its research and found that most consumers are using their smartphones to access social networks, it doesn't necessarily mean that they want a device dedicated to that functionality. In fact, they might prefer a device, like the iPhone, that offers social-networking capabilities as well as everything else that they need. Realizing that, Microsoft needs to keep a watchful eye on its Kin smartphones. If they're not selling well or they make Windows Phone 7 look bad in any way, they need to be discontinued promptly. It's as simple as that.
3. Partner with developers-quickly
Microsoft has already said it's planning on working with developers to bring as many applications to its app store as possible. That's a good thing. But it needs to focus quite a bit of its efforts specifically on that endeavor. Apple currently has more than 200,000 applications in its App Store. Google, arguably Microsoft's biggest competitor in the market, has more than 50,000 apps available. If consumers and enterprise customers find out that Windows Phone 7 only supports a few thousand apps by the time it hits store shelves, it will be real trouble for Microsoft. The more apps that showcase the value of Windows Phone 7, the greater Microsoft's chances are of staying afloat in the mobile business.
4. Attract more vendors
When Microsoft offered up its partial list of the vendors that would be running Windows Phone 7, it was a list of the usual suspects. The same partners it has had for years will be working with its new operating system. But that doesn't mean the company should be complacent. If Google has proven anything over the past year, it's that having more partners typically translates into greater market share. It also means more revenue for the company offering the software. The iPhone is undoubtedly a successful device, but it comes from only one company. Microsoft can trump Apple's device by getting its operating system running on multiple phones.